Honourable Folks, the news that former president Bingu wa Mutharika amassed over K61 billion within the eight years he was in power should serve as a reminder that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Those who were there between 1999 when Mutharika contested and lost in both the presidential and parliamentary polls and 2004 when he won the presidential race on a UDF ticket, know the man was stone broke after the 1999 polls. He only began to get his life back when the Muluzi administration gave him a job first as deputy Reserve Bank governor and later in the Cabinet as Economic Planning and Development Minister.
Up until he declared K150 million, most of it in fixed assets, Mutharika was in the middle class, below the ranks of the rich even by Malawian standards. His major accomplishment is making it from rags to the enviable status of the super-rich—multi-billionaire—within the eight years he served as State President of Malawi, a country rated among the 10 poorest in the world.
Coincidentally, despite declaring zero tolerance for corruption at his inauguration in May 2004, Mutharika saw to it that the constitutional provision for the declaration of assets remained without an enabling law. Interestingly, even Amai is not talking about it.
What Mutharika did in the name of zero tolerance for corruption was to fire Yusuf Mwawa from his Cabinet after the media implicated him in a K130 000 scam, most likely a pawn sacrificed to make us believe the fight against corruption was real. Mwawa ended up being convicted and sentenced to a five-year jail term.
Mutharika also let the Anti-Corruption Bureau zero in on his predecessor Bakili Muluzi on suspicion that he pocketed K1.7 billion of public funds. The case against Muluzi is ongoing.
Now we hear the zero-tolerance for corruption hero himself had K61 billion scattered in his local and off shore accounts at the time of his death in April 2012. All that money amassed in eight years of leading one of the 10 poorest countries in the world?
The question is: What would the JB administration, which is itself so averse to asset declaration, going to do about it? Will they institute another commission to probe how Mutharika amassed his wealth or will they let sleeping dogs lie?
Whatever action government may take, it’s up to us the citizens first to realise that Mutharika seems only to have perfected the art of swindling public coffers that both Muluzi and Kamuzu Banda were also accused of.
Kamuzu was so dazed with absolute power that he started believing that he owned whatever belonged to the State. By the time we gave him the sack, he thought Press Corporation Limited, by then one of the biggest conglomerates in southern Africa controlling over 30 percent of the Malawi economy, was his property. So too were State Houses until the Muluzi administration reclaimed what belonged to us.
We’ve definitely not seen the last of such cases unless we demand greater accountability and transparency from the presidency. Anyone aspiring for a public office must declare assets. Government should enact an enabling law for the declaration of assets provision. ACB should be seen to have no sacred cows and genuinely independent.
We should demand a law on access to information so the public and media can access information from government more easily. The Office of the Director of Public Procurement should be made genuinely independent of political interference and operate using criteria that give an equal chance to all eligible bidders, no politics. This list is by no means exhaustive.
Above all, we should demand that government do all it can to ensure that every taxpayer’s tambala that may have ended up in Mutharika’s estate by corrupt means be reclaimed. Our people are dying needlessly in pubic hospitals due to lack of drugs, public schools and universities are poorly funded and, consequently, our children are subjected to poor quality education.
We can’t remain indifferent to fraud and corruption which claims 30 percent of our National Budget. Mutharika has already made us pay a huge price for his political blunders. We shouldn’t be made to pay for his greed as well. It simply isn’t right.